What is it and what does it mean for university applications? This definitive guide from Apply to Uni will tell you all you need to know…
The English Baccalaureate is not a qualification; it is a performance measure for schools. However, by taking the subjects outlined in the English Baccalaureate, you will be giving yourself the best options and opportunities for further education, by ensuring you have the broad base of core academic subjects that universities and colleges prefer.
The English Baccalaureate should not be confused with the International Baccalaureate, which is an academic qualification, or with the proposed English Baccalaureate Certificate, which was the planned replacement for GCSEs until the government shelved the plan in early 2013 (see below).
The English Baccalaureate is a measure by which government, local education authorities, parents and pupils can measure a school’s performance in key academic areas. It is also a benchmark for universities to check that applicants have a solid academic foundation on which to build.
There is no certificate for the English Baccalaureate, as it is achieved by amalgamating your GCSE qualifications. So if it is not a formal qualification, then why was the English Baccalaureate created?
The English Baccalaureate was created to address a number of perceived problems in Key Stage 4 education, including:
A decline in students studying core subjects
The government had identified a drift away from core academic subjects, such as history, geography and languages. It was felt that this was not giving pupils the best opportunities for study at university and was restricting the choices they could subsequently make. Some schools had actually stopped offering some of the English Baccalaureate subjects at GCSE level, meaning that their pupils were at a disadvantage when it came to A Levels and university applications. The English Baccalaureate was introduced to encourage all schools to offer the core subjects to all pupils.
An increase in non-academic vocational courses
There was a sharp rise in non-academic vocational qualifications between 2004 and 2010, rising from around 15,000 per year to a staggering 575,000. While these courses have their place, there was concern that such courses did not offer pupils the best opportunities, either for further study or to find employment.
An inequality between schools from different economic backgrounds
The ‘drift’ away from core academic subjects was shown to be far greater in poorer areas than in affluent ones. For example, just 4% of pupils receiving free school means studied chemistry or physics in 2009 and just 15% took geography or a language. The English Baccalaureate was introduced as a way of levelling the playing field for pupils from all backgrounds.
The English Baccalaureate is one of the performance measures that are used to rank schools as part of the official league tables. It helps to identify schools that are failing in the basic provision of core subjects, as well as those that are excelling in this area. It is one of a number of measures used, and the government stresses that the main measure remains the number of pupils attaining at least 5 GCSEs at A* to C grades.
The English Baccalaureate comprises English, Maths, History or Geography, two Sciences and a Language. You can find a full list of the subjects, and qualifying examinations, by downloading the spreadsheet. To qualify for the English Baccalaureate, you need to achieve an A* to C grade in each of these areas.
The number of subjects in the English Baccalaureate has been kept deliberately small to allow pupils to still choose subjects that interest them and to pursue school careers that match their abilities and their ambitions.
Only full GCSEs count towards the English Baccalaureate; short course GCSEs do not count. Cambridge International Certificates (iGCSEs) and Edexcel Level 1 and 2 certificates also count towards the English Baccalaureate.
In choosing the above subjects, the English Baccalaureate treads a fine line between ensuring that the core subjects are covered, and avoiding being too prescriptive about student options for GCSE courses. Some of the requirements for the English Baccalaureate are already compulsory, such as English and Maths.
The subjects for the English Baccalaureate were selected in consultation with university groups, such as the Russell Group. They explained the subjects that they would like to see candidates qualified in, as well as subjects that gave pupils the best possible range of options when it came to choosing A Levels and university courses.
There is some debate about which subjects should be included, especially since only history and geography are included in the humanities. Music and Religious Education have been suggested as options for the English Baccalaureate, however, the only change introduced since the launch of the English Baccalaureate is the addition of computers as a fourth science option. According to the Department of Education website, there are no plans to change the elements of the English Baccalaureate in the near future.
Few of us really know what we want to do in life at 13 or 14, when we make our GCSE choices, so it is well worth keeping your options open. Not many university courses ask for specific GCSEs other than English and Maths, which are compulsory anyway. However, you will usually need the equivalent GCSE to study a subject at A Level.
You should therefore keep your options open for A Levels by studying as wide a range of GCSEs as possible. The English Baccalaureate should help you do this in two ways; firstly by ensuring your school offers a wide range of core subjects, and secondly by leaving your options open beyond the five core elements of the English Baccalaureate.
Unlike the International Baccalaureate, which includes a range of non-academic measures such as social skills, creativity and extra-curricular activities, the English Baccalaureate is a purely academic measure. It is confined to measuring achievement in the core subjects at GCSE or equivalent and does not seek to assess pupils in any other way.
While universities will be interested in the English Baccalaureate as a mark of a good all round education, it does not carry the same weight as other styles of baccalaureate. Even if you do not have the right combination of subjects to qualify for the English Baccalaureate, your grades in the subjects you have chosen will speak for themselves when it comes to university applications.
As we have seen, there is no formal qualification for the English Baccalaureate, and you will not be issued with a certificate. The English Baccalaureate is primarily a performance measure for the school, demonstrating the availability and quality of teaching in the core academic subjects.
There is no formal qualification because the main function of the English Baccalaureate is to encourage schools to offer these subjects and pupils to study them, rather than to replace the qualifications that already exist in those subjects.
It is unlikely that the English Baccalaureate will affect the most academically minded pupils, since they would probably have chosen the subjects that are included anyway. However, it will affect those just below the top stream, by encouraging them to pursue a course of studies that gives them the most sought after academic qualifications, both for universities and colleges and for employers.
As the government states on the Department of Education website, the aim of the English Baccalaureate is ’to encourage more students to take these core subjects to bring about greater fairness of opportunity.’
A survey of teachers in June 2012 showed that almost 48% of pupils starting their GCSEs in September 2012 had selected the subjects that would lead to an English Baccalaureate, compared to just 22% in 2010 when the English Baccalaureate was first introduced. Figures also show that more pupils are studying geography and history now than before the English Baccalaureate began.
These increases prove that the English Baccalaureate is succeeding in its aim to get more pupils studying the core subjects, and to get schools to place more emphasis on these subjects. The long term success of the English Baccalaureate may not be seen for several years, until there is enough data to iron out the statistical anomalies and show real trends in core subject education and achievement.
The English Baccalaureate is unlikely to be a compulsory entry qualification for university any time soon. It does not earn you UCAS points and it is not required to gain a place at college or university.
What the English Baccalaureate does demonstrate, however, is that you have a broad foundation in core subjects, which will stand you in good stead for life at university. While you will be expected to have appropriate A Levels for the course you have chosen, you will also be expected to have a good general education too, and the English Baccalaureate demonstrates this. It also shows that you have the foresight to plan your studies to achieve a certain set standard.
The English Baccalaureate will show your chosen university that you are a good all round academic, able to cope with both the precision of maths and the sciences, as well as the cognitive skills of learning a language. Indeed, many studies have shown that studying a language actually increases your cognitive abilities by using different areas of your brain. The English Baccalaureate encourages science minded pupils to take a language and benefit from this process, when they may not have otherwise selected a language option.
In the wake of the growing unrest regarding ever increasing numbers of students gaining top grades at GCSE, the government, and specifically the Education Minister, Michael Gove, suggested replacing GCSEs with the English Baccalaureate Certificate – similar to the International Baccalaureate Certificate. The government claimed that this would stop the ‘race to the bottom’ by the current exam boards, and stop the grade inflation and ‘dumbing down’ that was perceived to be occurring at Key Stage 4 level.
The English Baccalaureate Certificate was planned to have a far tougher syllabus, and to be more reliant on end of course exams and less on coursework. The introduction of the English Baccalaureate Certificate in 2014 was abandoned by the government, following consultation, with Mr Gove describing the proposal as being ‘a bridge too far’.
The English Baccalaureate is unaffected by the proposal, and subsequent abandonment, of the English Baccalaureate Certificate.
The English Baccalaureate should not be confused with the Welsh Baccalaureate, which is an actual qualification. The Welsh Baccalaureate combines a core component with traditional A/S Level, A Level NVQs and BTEC qualifications. The core component includes:
The English Baccalaureate is not the same as the International Baccalaureate, which is a qualification that is accepted around the world. This involves studying six subjects, three at a higher level, as well as additional component such as an extended essay, compulsory course components and a section dedicated to learning acquired beyond the classroom in real life situations.
For more information on the International Baccalaureate, please read our definitive guide.
You can read more about the English Baccalaureate on the Department for Education website, or on the UCAS website. You should also discuss with your teachers and careers advisors whether the English Baccalaureate is right for you.